Leaving the Island for Greener Pastures

Moving from Penang Island to the mainland might have been deemed foolhardy a mere decade ago, but today, drawn by new and attractive development projects, quality health and educational facilities and housing prices that are less painful on the pocket, many are boldly packing up for Seberang Perai.

Alex Ooi is one of them. Born and raised in Air Itam, Ooi only seriously contemplated moving to the mainland when the living space of his old home grew too snug for his family’s comfort. But on a single-income, property prices on the island were far too steep for him: “The only two locations that were up for consideration were Balik Pulau and the mainland. The price then for a double storey terrace in both areas was around RM300,000-400,000.”

The family eventually relocated to Batu Kawan instead, mostly to lessen the travelling time for Ooi’s parents, who made weekly visits from Perak to Penang to visit their grandson.

Alex Ooi and his family.

It has been six years since the move, but in those days, adjustments and compromises had to be made. Ooi works as an electronics engineer at Keysight Technologies Malaysia, and the daily rush hour traffic on Penang Bridge is still vivid in his mind. “To get home, I had to not only battle my way through traffic on the first bridge, but in Juru and Bukit Tambun as well. Thankfully, this only went on for about a year before the second bridge opened. Since then, commuting to work has been smooth and scenic.”

Food-wise, it’s been quite an adventure for the family of three. “Our first couple of years here were spent food-hunting at eateries and food courts. They recently opened the first 24-hour nasi kandar shop here; back then, I had to go to Simpang Ampat just to get my fill.

“I suppose ‘convenience’ is the main difference between living on the island and in the mainland. In Paya Terubong, I could just walk to the nearest kopitiam; now, I have to drive out to eat. But I also think that this appears to be a big problem only for the islanders because so much is within easy reach for them. My father, on the other hand, has no problem taking a 45-minute drive just to have breakfast because he’s grown accustomed to it, having lived in Perak for so long now.”

Ooi’s son has just started Standard Two, and as far as education facilities go, he has no qualms. “The school is a five-minute drive away, and finding tuition and piano classes for him has been a non-issue. A Chinese-language tuition centre was somewhat difficult to find, however, because most centres only offer English-language classes. But the fees here are definitely cheaper by comparison, sometimes by half!

“As for healthcare facilities, we do have a few regular clinics that we go to. But in the event of a serious illness, like when my son contracted H1N1 or when my father had to undergo angioplasty, we would come back to the island, to Pantai Hospital since it’s the closest to my house and workplace.”

Lim Chiu Yi.

Touching on the “urban” divide between Penang’s islanders and mainlanders, Ooi deliberates: “I might’ve been one of them back when I was an islander, but it was in no way done with malice, more in jest. The islanders are quite content to live in this cocoon of our making. The only time I would meet mainlanders was when they came over to the island, and by their doing so, they reasserted the belief for me that the ‘happening’ place is our cocoon.

“Exciting times are coming to the mainland, however, and with major developments come an increase in job opportunities. Unlike the island, where urban planning has limited room for improvement, the Batu Kawan township was started from an entirely clean slate – the roads are straighter and the junctions are more 90°. I’m excited to see what’s in store for the future,” says Ooi.

Comfortable Living Space

Accumulative factors prompted Lim Chiu Yi’s move to Simpang Ampat. Having lived in rented landed properties around Teluk Bahang during her youth, Lim was determined to get a place of her own when she entered the working world.

But, as in Ooi’s case, house prices – both for landed and highrise – were exorbitant on the island; and after numerous roundsof house-hunting yielded no success, Lim was more than ready to throw in the towel when she happened on an advertisement by Tambun Indah Land.

Lim and her family celebrating Chinese New Year at her house in Simpang Ampat.

“It was developing a residential gated community in Simpang Ampat, and what’s more, the terms and conditions were flexibly packaged – I only had to make a RM1,000 down payment.” Following her property agent’s advice, Lim visited the site and was impressed by what she saw: “I made the down payment and permanently moved in in 2016.”

She cites the comfortable living space as the primary reason for the purchase. “The house is bigger than the ones I surveyed on the island. With four rooms, it’s just nice for our family of five. It’s safer too because there is round-the-clock security, and guests are asked to provide their personal details before being permitted entry. But most importantly, it’s a conducive environment for my daughter to grow and thrive in.

“The easygoing tranquillity of the area reminds me of the houses I grew up in at Teluk Bahang, away from George Town where the streets are always teeming with traffic and noise. And for breakfast, you can tuck into a sizeable portion of nasi lemak, complete with fish, squid, chicken and egg for just RM3.80. You definitely can’t get this on the island.”

Though Lim commutes to work daily via the second bridge, the toll fees are subsidised by the organisation she works for. “I try to minimise my travels during the weekends and prefer to explore the mainland instead. I had no idea there were so many developments going on prior to purchasing my house. There’s even an international school here – GEMS International School – and with IKEA opening its doors soon, there’s bound to be an increase in activity in this part of Penang.”

Regina Hoo is a Broadcasting and Journalism graduate from the University of Wolverhampton.

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